The Elephant in the Room on LeBron
LeBron is and will be one of the greatest NBA players of all-time. There is a reason so many debates surround Lebron v Jordan for the GOAT. We haven’t seen anything like LeBron before. As it stands, he sits number two all time for me. Until his playing days are over, he still has a shot for the title of GOAT. Now some may laugh at that, I have written a half dozen columns regarding that. If you’d like to debate that, go for it. You’re probably wrong.
That being said, LeBron is my Jordan so to speak. I was too young to watch the great career of MJ unfold in real time. Right around the time I cognitively recognized what I was seeing unfold, LeBron bursted the door of the NBA open. Thus it became an obsession surrounding him. I have always been enamored with him as a player. In sports, I don’t care about the debates as much as I would rather enjoy the greatness unfold and then objectively have the conversations without casting blanketed statements.
LeBron is great. There is no denying that.
I still remember his first finals run with the Cavs in which they came back from 0-2 against Detroit. They ended up winning the series 4-2. In Game 5, LeBron scored 29 of the team’s 30 points to close the game. That was the first major playoff moment I can remember. Since then, it has been a roller coaster.
The thing I have always respected about LeBron is his willingness to adapt his game in order to score wins. When he entered the league, he was not a good scorer at all. His offensive game as far as scoring was dunks and layups. He progressively developed a solid mid range game and became one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. Because of how great he is and all of the things he can do well, I believe people forget just how good of a scorer he is.
People don’t put him in the conversation of pure scorers because he’s not just a scorer. He’s known to be a do it all player. In the same breath, no one is knocking Lionel Messi for scoring because he is also a great facilitator and gets back for defense and does it well. No one was denying Ken Griffey Jr’s power because he was a 5 tool player. So why the hell doesn’t he get mentioned?
Some of the names that get mentioned before him over the last 10 years are KD, Curry, Harden and Kyrie. So let’s compare their averages over the last 10 years.
Points Per Game / Field Goal % / 3 Point % / 0-3 Feet / 3-10 Feet / 10-16 Feet / 16-3PT / Assist % 2 PT / Assist % on 3 PT / FG Attempts Per Game
- Kevin Durant – 27.4 / .506 / .386 / .768 / .460 / .477 / .467 / .490 / .708 / 18.5
- James Harden – 29.6 / .443 / .362 / .643 / .374 / .425 / .375 / .154 / .340 / 19.6 (Rockets Only)
- Stephen Curry – 23.5 / .476 / .435 / .647 / .415 / .454 / .466 / .327 / .621 / 17.1
- Kyrie Irving – 22.4 / .478 / .394 / .608 / .394 / .464 / .452 / .240 / .548 / 17.7
- LeBron James – 26.5 / .527 / .356 / .755 / .424 / .406 / .389 / .334 / .494 / 18.7
Compared to some of the other names who get mentioned above him in terms of strictly scoring ability, here is where LeBron stacks up…
- Points Per Game – 3rd
- Field Goal Percentage – 1st
- 3 Point Percentage – 5th
- 0-3 Feet – 2nd
- 3-10 Feet – 2nd
- 10-16 Feet – 5th
- 16-3PT – 4th
- Assists on 2 Point Shots – 3rd
- Assists on 3 Point Shots – 2nd
- Attempts Per Game – 2nd
When you look at his efficiency, there is an argument to be made that he is the best scorer. The gap is wide between he and the others as you move into deeper territory (minus Durant), especially with Curry who is the best 3 point shooter of all time. That gap is equally wide as you move closer to the goal. Meanwhile, he also isn’t jacking them up like some of the others. Then you look at the percentage of shots that are off assists, he is creating his own shots far more often than anyone except Harden.
One thing remains true above all this, the fact he gets left off or eradicated as a scorer is a monumental misfire.
Another element I respect about him is how he worked on the mental side of his game. When he put up that piss poor performance in the 2010 Finals with the Heat, that became the final straw in being mentally weak for lack of a better term. He talked about how from that point on, he tuned everything out when it came time to postseason and we have seen a different animal since. As great as he is, his game gets elevated win or lose come playoff time.
However, the same can’t be said about all of his teams. Sure, there have been moments like the Ray Allen or Kyrie Irving shots. But, collectively speaking, let’s break down every postseason run since 2012. It’s not a secret his teams in Cleveland during the first run were miserably awful. If that needs to be broken down, please see yourself out.
One of the major Elephants in the room is that his team has let him down. Those talks began happening again after game 1 against the Blazers, but has since been rectified after Anthony Davis demolished any reminisce of the Blazers’ Defense.
Miami 2011-12 Playoffs (Won NBA Finals 4-1 vs OKC)
For the entirety of the postseason, LeBron led the Heat in Point, Rebounds, Assists, Steals and Field Goal Percentage (minus Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, who combined 4 shots per game).
Overwhelmingly, the Heat ran through every series in 2012 minus the Boston Celtics which went 7. The Pacers went 6 games after jumping out to 3-0 lead.
The Heat were down 3-2 in the series against Boston. In game 6, facing elimination on the road, LeBron shot 19/26 accounting for 45 of the team’s 98 points. He led the Heat in assists with 5 and rebounds with 15. The next leading scorer was Dwyane Wade with 17 points on 17 shots. They ended up dominating game 7 with solid production from LeBron, Wade, Chris Bosh and key role guys.
The Heat went on to make quick work of a young overwhelmed OKC team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden as Miami collectively played to status quo.
Miami 2012-2013 Playoffs (Won NBA Finals 4-3 vs SAS)
They ran through the Bucks and Bulls in the first round and conference semi-finals with an 8-1 record. The loss came in game 1 against the Bulls where James drastically out performed the other pieces of his supporting cast.
The next two series ended up going 7. They battled the Indiana Pacers exchanging wins and losses until Miami won game 7. If you remember, LeBron completely dominated that series when his teammates couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Chris Bosh was being manhandled by Roy Hibbert. LeBron marked Paul George in game 7 to alleviate Wade on the defensive end. LeBron led Miami in Points, Rebounds, Assists, Field Goal Percentage, 3 Pointers, Steals and Blocks. This series was the coming out party for LeBron as he dominated throughout and showed off a polished jump shot and a post game we hadn’t quite seen before.
Then against the Spurs, LeBron finished the series averaging 25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and nearly 3 steals per game. Unlike the series against the Pacers, the supporting cast played fantastic. Remember, this was the series Danny Green lit up the Heat for 27 threes in the series. However, it didn’t matter because LeBron, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers all hit 11 or more for the series. Wade and Bosh also shot a high clip from the field.
While it was Bosh who grabbed the offensive rebound that led to the Ray Allen 3 in Game 6 to keep the series alive, LeBron held up his end of the bargain putting up 32 points 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Then in game 7, LeBron puts up 37 points shooting 52% from the field, 50% from deep and 100% from the charity stripe. It was a three man wrecking crew that night with him Wade and Battier. The latter came alive and shot 6 of 8 from deep.
Miami 2013-2014 Playoffs (Lost NBA Finals 1-4 SAS)
Much like the previous year, it was a solid collective run for LeBron and the Heat. They made quick work of the Bobcats and Nets in the first two series. They went six with the Pacers after losing game 1. They won the next 3. Lost a close one in game 5 before demolishing the Pacers in Game 6. So it didn’t feel like a close 6 game series.
Then in the finals, most of the team but LeBron shit the bed. Lebron led the team in Points, Assists, Rebounds, Steals, FG Attempts and Percentage and 3 PT Attempts and Percentage.
He finished the series with 28 points per game, 8 rebounds per game and 4 assists per game while shooting 57% from the field and 51% from deep. The next leading scorer was Wade who averaged 15 points per game. Unfortunately, the Heat were demolished in five games.
Cleveland 2014-2015 Playoffs (Lost NBA Finals 2-4 Golden State)
The Cavs made fairly quick work of the Eastern Conference going 12-2 with a close 6 game series to the Bulls. The Cavs were down 2-1 before winning the next three. LeBron couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat that series, but he made up for it by getting to the line. He still finished the series averaging 26 points, 11 rebounds and nearly 9 assists. Kyrie Irving left much to be desired and they were without Kevin Love. However, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova did well with their limited roles.
Cleveland followed the same blueprint as their series with the Bulls except, they found themselves on the losing end against the Warriors. They climbed to a 2-1 lead before dropping the next three. Irving was hurt and only played in one game. This was the year there was talk about why LeBron should have been series MVP despite losing.
He made the Warriors earn every victory thanks to his dominant performance. He led the ENTIRE SERIES in points per game, assists per game and rebounds per game. He scored 59 more points than Steph Curry who was second. He had 15 more assists than the person in second which was also Curry. He grabbed 30 more rebounds than the person in second which was Draymond Green. He finished the series averaging nearly 36 points, 13 rebounds and nearly 9 assists.
Cleveland 2015-2016 Playoffs (Won NBA Finals 4-3 Golden State)
The Cavs didn’t get tested until the Conference Finals against the Raptors. Every team won their home games until Game 6 when Cleveland put the series on ice winning 4-2. It was a collaborative effort as LeBron, Kyrie and Love all did their parts along with the supporting cast. That being said, LeBron still led the team in points, assists and rebounds. He shot 62% from the floor. Kyrie was equally impressive averaging 24 points shooting 48%.
Then came Cleveland finally getting a taste of glory. LeBron and Kyrie completed dominated the finals as a duo. This was easily the best effort by the second fiddle in LeBron’s career.
- LeBron – 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, 2.3 blocks, .494 FG%, .371 3PT%
- Kyrie – 27.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.1 steals, .468 FG%, .405 3PT%
Tristan Thompson averaged a double-double at 10 and 10 for the series as well.
A lot of moving parts went in to the Cavs upsetting the Warriors in that series including the shooting woes of the Warriors, Draymond Green getting suspended and Ty Lue outcoaching Steve Kerr by forcing the Warriors into Curry playing Kyrie or LeBron 1v1. I love Curry, but that ain’t the answer boss.
That allowed LeBron and Kyrie to attack the rim relentlessly. They did and they did it well.
Cleveland 2016-2017 Playoffs (Lost NBA Finals 1-4 Golden State)
The Cavs ran through the East without any scares 12-1. Then they hit the damn wall was the already 73 win Warriors from last season that added Kevin Durant. LOL Good luck.
Overall LeBron and Kyrie kept the same level of play for the Finals. It just wasn’t enough. LeBron averaged 33/12/10. Both of them shot a high clip from the floor and from 3. Again, it just wasn’t enough.
Cleveland 2017-2018 Playoffs (Lost NBA Finals 0-4 Golden State)
His number two in Kyrie leaves because he wants to be THE star. Again, written columns about him. He’s an idiot. Plain and simple.
Cleveland struggled big time in the playoffs with LeBron being the only real star there. They still managed to make it back to the Finals. In Round 1, they outlasted the Pacers 4-3. Of course columns were written after dropping game 1 that said things like “don’t be surprised if the Cavs lose.” The same shit we heard after game 1 this year. This is a story for another day, but NBA Fans are stupid and reactionary. They live in prisoner of the moment cells. We see it time and time again, especially when it comes to LeBron.
LeBron leads the team in all major categories. He averaged 34 points, 10 rebounds and nearly 8 assists on the series. He shot 55% / 35% / 81% respectively. Kevin Love was second in points with 11 per game.
They go on to sweep Toronto while LeBron kept status quo while the others picked it up.
In the conference finals, Cleveland once again goes the distance for a full 7 with the Celtics. Guess what happened? Pretty much an exact blueprint of the series with the Pacers. LeBron stays status quo and the rest fall. In the previous series with the Raptors, five players not named LeBron averaged double digit points including Love’s 20 ppg. The only player not named LeBron to average double digits against the Celtics was Love at 12.5 ppg.
LeBron does LeBron in the Finals and they get swept because again, KD factor. The road to get there was mainly all LeBron. He had to do more with less in order to win two of those series.
While the conclusion of the 2020 playoff is still being written, we saw in Game 1 where LeBron was on another stratosphere without much help. Anthony Davis had his moments, but wasn’t great. The supporting cast left much to be desired. The jury is still out on this season. I think last year was more of write off for LeBron where he coasted. Yet, he still put up LeBron numbers.
That being said, let’s recap the playoff runs following his miserable Finals against Dallas and where his teammates fell short.
- Indiana Pacers (Conference Finals 2013) Result – Win
- San Antonio Spurs (Finals 2014) Result – Loss
- Chicago Bulls (East Semis 2015) Result – Win
- Golden State Warriors (Finals 2015) Result – Loss
- Indiana Pacers (First Round 2018) Result – Win
- Boston Celtics (Conference Finals 2018) – Result – Win
- Golden State Warriors (Finals 2018) Result – Loss
There have been crucial series where LeBron’s teammates have left much to be desired. Part of that is because LeBron has rarely been on the best team when it comes to the Finals. LeBron’s teams have only been favored in two of the nine finals he has competed in. While he has carried his teams in crucial series dating back to his days in Cleveland when first joining the NBA, that was never more prevalent since then than it was in 2018 after Kyrie booked it from Cleveland.
The reality is, LeBron has been so damn great for so long that we almost become numb to how great he is. Here he is in year 17 competing at a high level and still arguably the best player in the NBA. People forget that. Just like they forget how great of a scorer he actually is.
In 2018 when James Harden won MVP, he was heralded because of his efficiency. This is what I mean by devaluing LeBron for his efficiency.
Harden v LeBron By The Numbers
- Points Per Game – 30.4 / 27.5
- Assists Per Game – 8.8 / 9.1
- Rebounds Per Game – 5.4 / 8.6
- Field Goal % – .449 / .542
- 3 Point % – .367 / .367
- Free Throw % – .858 / .731
James Harden received 86 first place votes to LeBron’s 15, which is absurd given the main argument for Harden was efficiency. LeBron played in 10 more games than Harden that season so keep that in mind. He only took 131 more shots than Harden, but still managed to make over 200 more FGs on the season. But we want to talk about efficiency when it came to Harden.
That plays into the argument of how we have become so numb to how great he is.
There is one major elephant in the room with all of this when it comes to LeBron that he needs to be knocked for. He can elevate any player on his team to be better than they probably are because he’s that good of a player in so many ways. But when his teammates fall short in big moments, he needs to be blamed for some of that. Not because he is responsible for them doing so. He is ultimately doing his part more often than not on the court.
But, we can’t keep using the LeBron’s teammates sucked excuse any longer because he has been handpicking his supporting casts since 2014-2015. Once LeBron became established as a star who can elevate anyone’s game and win/compete for championships annually, he basically became a player/coach/GM. That is 100% a testament to his greatness and how much of an impact he makes on and off the court.
If he is allowed to do that, he also needs to be the one who falls on the sword for doing that.
While it is fair to say his teammates have let him down on many occasions, we have to account for the fact those are the teammates he himself picked. Is he right for holding them accountable? Yes. You see the level of respect he commands as a leader. But, you can’t always make it a habit of throwing them under the bus which has done and the echo chamber has helped him do.
This is a conundrum of it’s not wrong to say his teammates have let him down many times in the postseason, but you are wrong to not shoulder any blame his way given the freedom he’s had since the latter part of Miami.
As the playoffs unfold, even though I picked the Clippers, I would love nothing more than seeing the Lakers led by LeBron winning the finals. That would mean he has done it as THE guy with three different rosters and three different coaches. Embrace greatness because like Jordan he’s built different, just maybe not in the same exact way.